How To Judge Line & Length Early – 7 Useful Tips!

One aspect of batting that really separates the elite players like Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and Kane Williamson from other players is their ability to pick up the line and length of the ball early in its flight. When I watch those guys bat, it often seems that they know where the ball is going to land before it has left the bowlers hand! The reason it looks like this is because they have trained themselves to read deliveries incredibly quickly, and as a result it seems as if they have all the time in the world to play their shots. Any batsman that is able to judge line and length early will give themselves a significant advantage when it comes to facing both fast bowlers and spin bowlers!

Thankfully, there are many ways that we can teach ourselves to pick up the line and length of deliveries earlier, and in my opinion that is something all batsmen should be trying to achieve! The best part is that learning how to do this doesn’t require any major changes in your technique or your way of batting – most of it is incredibly simple! In this post I will be sharing my knowledge on this topic with you, and hopefully once you’ve read it all you’ll feel like you have some good stuff to start working on in the nets!

So, how can you learn to judge line and length early? Here’s 7 great tips that should help…

  1. Watch The Ball Closely As It Leaves The Bowlers Hand
  2. Keep Your Head & Eyes Level At The Point Of Release
  3. Engage In As Much Batting Practice As Possible
  4. Get Yourself In The Right Frame Of Mind To Face The Delivery
  5. Get Your Outside Eye Over Your Off Stump
  6. Use Drills That Help You To Judge Line & Length
  7. If You’re Not Batting, Use Your Net Sessions To ‘Shadow Bat’

Before I go through each tip individually, let me briefly explain the advantages that picking up line and length early offers you!

Why Is It Important To Pick Up Line And Length Early?

To put it simply – the earlier we can judge the line and length of a particular delivery, the more time we will give ourselves to produce a physical response and play a suitable shot.

Many elite batsmen put their success down to ‘seeing the ball early, and playing it late’. By this they mean that they are able to read the line and length very quickly, picking up where the ball is going to bounce, and this gives them plenty of time to put their body into a good position to play the ball once it is under their eyes. It allows them to wait for the ball which helps them to time their shots better.

Batsmen who judge line and length slowly will have less time to move their body into the necessary position, and as a result they may have to rush through the shot process. This can lead to batsmen playing shots with their feet and head in awful positions, which often results in dismissals! The longer we can give ourselves to react to the ball, the better!

Let me now take you through my tips that will help you to judge line and length earlier!

Watch The Ball Closely As It Leaves The Bowlers Hand

The most important thing you need to do if you want to judge line and length nice and early is to watch the ball extremely closely. The reason you need to do this should be fairly obvious, but to put it simply, if you don’t watch the ball carefully, then you will have no chance of knowing where the ball is going to bounce. As a result of this you’ll be guessing where you need to move your feet and which shot you need to play, which is a terrible position to be in when you’re facing fast bowling in particular!

The longer we look at the ball as it travels towards us, the more information we can pick up about each delivery. Gathering the maximum amount of information about each delivery is important if we are going to play the ball well. For example, we may quickly judge that the ball is going to be full, but by keeping our eyes trained on the ball we can pick up other things such as the speed and the amount of swing. Batsmen who take their eyes off the ball as it leaves the bowlers hand will struggle to judge these things. Watching the ball for a long time also helps us to adjust to deliveries that fail to bounce as much as we expect, or that bounce more than usual.

Additionally, by watching the ball as it leaves the batsman’s hand, we will be able to see if the bowler makes any alterations to their release. For example, if you see a fast bowlers hand rotate during release, it is a sure sign that they are about to bowl a cutter! If you see the back of their hand rather than the normal front of the hand, you know they are about to bowl a back of the hand slower ball. These are all things that watching the ball closely helps us to notice!

Watching the ball seems simple the first time you hear it, but you may be surprised how hard it is to do consistently, especially when you’ve just started your cricketing career. Ideally, you should be trying to get into the habit of watching the ball from the end of the bowlers run up to the time that it reaches you. Many batsmen can do this once, but the key is to be able to do it consistently, during each delivery.

If you want to teach yourself to watch the ball during each delivery, I’d recommend using your net sessions to get into the habit of whispering ‘watch the ball’ to yourself a few times as the bowler is approaching the crease. By using verbal repetition in this way, you are reminding yourself where your focus needs to be, and this will lead to you keeping your eyes on the ball more often than not. If you watch cricket regularly, you’ll see a lot of professional batsmen whispering to themselves like this too! Additionally, some batsmen like to write ‘watch the ball’ reminders on their bat handle, or on their gloves or arms. If you felt like it would benefit you, you could try this too! Just be sure that you’re not bothered about ruining your equipment first!

Keep Your Head & Eyes Level At The Point Of Release

To give yourself the best chance of picking up the line and length of the ball, you should try to keep your head and eyes level when the ball is released by the bowler. The head position that I’m talking about is shown in the photo below.

Maintaining this head position helps you to judge the line and length of the ball quickly because it is the way most humans are comfortable with looking at the world. We get our best view of things when both of our eyes are on the same plain, concentrating on our target. Some batsmen that I see practicing in the nets don’t keep their heads level, and end up with their head in a sort of diagonal position as the bowler releases the ball. In my opinion, this is a much worse position to be in! In this diagonal position, one eye is slightly higher than the other, and I don’t think this is the optimum position if you want to be able to quickly determine whether the ball is going to be full or short.

When I have my head and eyes level, I find that it is easier to immediately judge the line of the ball too. I’m a right handed batsman so if the ball travels outside the line of my right eye, I know that it is a wide ball I can attack or leave alone. Any delivery inside the line of my right eye I will probably have to play at! This judgement is much harder to make if your head and eyes aren’t aligned. Try it yourself and see!

So how can you teach yourself to adopt a more level headed position when batting? If I were you, I’d have a look at these little bits of guidance:

  1. Work On It In The Nets And Film Yourself Batting – Batting in the nets is where we work on our game, so if you want to make a change to your head position it is best to work on it there! I’d recommend going into your net session with the intention of batting with your head and eyes level, and setting a camera up somewhere to watch you. Once you’re done batting, you can review your position at the release point and see if you need to make any changes. If you don’t have a camera then you could get a partner or a coach to watch you and then feedback after each delivery
  2. Try To Watch The Ball With Your Outside Eye – Your first question may be, what do I mean by ‘outside eye’? For left handed batsmen, this is your left eye. For right handers, it’s your right eye. Many batsmen will choose to position their head so that their outside eye can view the bowler clearly as they are approaching the crease. If you can see the bowler clearly with your outside eye, then you can be sure that your head will be in a nice level position. To see what I mean by this, I’d recommend watching Rory Burns bat! I’ve included a picture of him in his batting stance below so you can see how he turns his head to ensure that the bowler is visible in his outside eye!

Another advantage to positioning your head in this way is that it will often lead to you being a tad more upright in your stance. Some batsmen who don’t have their head and eyes level and use the ‘diagonal’ position that I showed above tend to lean over a bit more to the off side. You can see this in the photos below!

As many of you may already know, leaning towards the off side makes it more likely that your initial movement when batting will be to move your front foot across to the off side too. When you do this, you put yourself at a much higher risk of getting out LBW due to your front leg being planted directly in front of the stumps!

Engage In As Much Batting Practice As Possible

This tip is just as important as teaching yourself to watch the ball consistently. To put it simply, you will not improve your ability to judge line and length early unless you are getting plenty of batting practice and facing lots of deliveries from all different types of bowlers. The more deliveries you face in practice, the better prepared your brain and your body will be to respond to deliveries in real matches. Each delivery we face in practice helps to train our brain/body to react to the pace, direction and bounce of the cricket ball much faster.

To understand why practice matters, you need to understand the basics of how the brain works! At a basic level, the brain is responsible for interpreting information that is collected from the senses (taste, touch, sight etc). Once it has interpreted the information, it must decide on how to respond to that info.

Now let’s put this into the context of batting in cricket! A batsman watches the cricket ball with their eyes, and relays the information that the eyes have gathered to the brain. The brain must then interpret that information, deciding how fast the ball is travelling, whereabouts it will bounce etc. Based on this information, the brain will decide what the body needs to do to respond. It will then send signals to the muscles so that the body can move appropriately! This entire process happens incredibly quickly, often taking less than a second to complete!

Judging line and length quickly basically refers to how fast your brain can interpret the information that the eyes have gathered. This process can only be made faster through experience. To explain why, let’s use a quick example!

  1. Imagine you’re a batsman that is facing a bouncer for the first time. Your brain has never had to deal with this type of information before, and it has never formulated a response to this type of delivery
  1. Because your brain hasn’t seen this information before, it takes longer to process. Your brain also has to come up with a brand new physical response, which may delay the batsman’s movements slightly.
  1. Now imagine an experienced batsman, playing at professional level. By this stage in their career they will have faced thousands of bouncers, and as a result they will have worked out some good methods of playing them. Now when the bouncer is bowled, the batsman’s eyes will pick it up and feed the info to the brain, where the brain will quickly determine that the ball is going to be short. The brain makes this judgement quickly because it has seen this type of delivery so many times.
  1. Because the professional batsman has faced bouncers so many times, they will have built a large mental database of successful and unsuccessful physical responses. The brain can quickly call on these and put them into action. For example, if the brain quickly processes the information received and determines that the ball is going to get uncomfortably high and threaten the head, it can quickly enact a response to duck or weave out of the way of the ball

Each delivery we face in practice helps to train our brain to respond to future deliveries. There’s a reason that batsmen like Steve Smith practice so much – he wants to be totally prepared both mentally and physically for any type of delivery that he could eventually face during a match.

If you are a batsman that wants to excel in the game of cricket, in my opinion you should try to get at least 1 full hour of batting practice per week. If you can practice more than this, that would be even more ideal! I’d recommend checking out my article here to find out how you can practice batting at home – it may give you some fresh ideas! Basically, try to face as many deliveries as possible. The more you face, the quicker you will be able to judge the line and length of the ball.

Lastly, I think it’s important for me to mention how vital it is to face real bowlers in practice, rather than spending too much time facing bowling machines or throw downs. In my opinion our practice conditions should replicate real match conditions as much as possible, because this is the best type of preparation.

Imagine two different batsmen – one of them spends all of their practice time facing a bowling machine, and the other spends all their time facing deliveries from real quality quick bowlers. Which one will be more prepared to judge and play quick bowling during a match? In my opinion the answer is easy – it would be the batsman that regularly faces proper bowling. This batsman will be better prepared to judge the ball as it leaves the hand of the bowler, as they have more experience of seeing that in practice. It also allows that batsman to sync all of their batting movements with the run up of the bowler.

Get Yourself In The Right Frame Of Mind To Face The Delivery

If our mind is cluttered when we are batting, we will find it harder to concentrate on simple tasks like watching the ball. Ideally, at the start of your innings and prior to facing each ball, your mind should be totally clear and focussed on the task at hand. If your mind is free of stress and worry, you will be able to judge and react to the ball much quicker.

So how can you ensure that you’re in the best frame of mind to face each ball? Thankfully, there are multiple methods of mental preparation that you can engage in! I’ve detailed many of them in a different post that you can read by clicking here! For me personally, I use the following:

  1. Get Into a Routine In Between Deliveries – Once I have faced a ball, I will try to zone out and re-focus my mind on the next ball by walking away from the crease a little bit and looking around the field. This simple little activity helps you to forget the previous delivery, and concentrate on the next ball. Some batsmen spend all their time in between deliveries worrying about the last one, or worrying about what will happen if they receive a really quick ball next, and this harms their ability to properly judge line and length when the ball is bowled. Using little routines like this will help to keep you calm and relaxed, putting you in the best position to respond.
  2. Breathe Calmly & Deeply – Getting your breathing under control prior to facing the ball can help you to concentrate on it once it is delivered. I like to use some deep breathing techniques to settle myself and get plenty of oxygen to my brain, and you can read more about those in the post that I linked above!

Get Your Outside Eye Over Your Off Stump

If you can get your body into certain positions whilst you are batting, you will make it easier for yourself to judge the line and length of deliveries. Personally, I think that one of the most helpful positions that you can get into is to get your outside eye (right eye for right handers, left eye for left handers) directly over your off stump. I briefly mentioned this in an earlier section, but getting your head and eyes in this position really helps you to make quick judgements on the line of the ball. An example of the body position that I’m talking about is shown below!

Many batsmen (even ones at the professional level) get themselves in trouble when batting due to ‘not knowing where their off stump is’. This means that they are not sure where their off stump is in relation to the rest of their body when they are about to receive the ball. This is a bad situation to be in, because a batsman who is unsure about this will have no clue whether they have to play at the ball or if they can leave it alone. Therefore, they end up playing shots at more deliveries than necessary.

By utilising a batting stance/trigger movement that allows us to get our outside eye over the line of our off stump, we can ensure that we always know where the off stump is. If you want some more advice about your batting stance then click here to read my full guide! I’ve also written a detailed piece on trigger movements which you can read by clicking here! Both of those articles will give you plenty of info and guidance about getting yourselves into the best positions at the crease.

If you can get yourself into this position, you can make incredibly quick decisions based on the line of the ball. You’ll know that any delivery that travels outside the line of your right eye is missing the off stump, and as a result can be left alone if you choose. Any delivery that is inside the line of your outside eye is likely to be targeting your stumps or your body, so you will probably have to play a shot at those deliveries.

To check where your eyes are when you’re batting, you should probably set up a camera and film yourself as I mentioned earlier. Once you have the footage, you can make the necessary adjustments to your position if required.

Use Drills That Help You To Judge Line & Length

Using drills is a good way to keep your practice sessions fresh, and can allow you to challenge yourself and improve your skills. I find that they are a great thing to use before you go into the nets for a proper batting session against real bowlers. Drills that get your eyes working and get you thinking about the line and length of the ball can help you learn to make quicker judgements! Let’s look at two different types…

Length Drills

To set up a length drill, you’ll need to know a bit about the different lengths of bowling. Have a look at my diagram below if you want a quick breakdown!

diagram showing the different lengths on a cricket pitch
This Diagram Shows The Different Lengths That The Ball Can Land On On A Cricket Pitch

A ball that bounces in the green zone – the yorker length – is the fullest ball you can receive. Some of these may even reach you without bouncing. The blue zone represents a full length, and lies roughly 2-6 metres away from the batsman’s stumps. Balls that pitch in this area will usually result in the batsman striding forwards and playing them off the front foot, using a shot like the straight drive or the forward defence. The yellow zone is the good length zone, which is probably the most challenging area that the ball can land. A ball that lands in this zone puts doubt in the mind of the batsman as to whether they should be playing on the front or back foot. The red zone is the back of a length zone. Any deliveries that pitch in this zone or pitch shorter than this should be played off the back foot.

Now you’re armed with this knowledge, you’re free to set up your drill. Follow the steps below if you want to have a go!

What you’ll need:

  • Batting equipment – this should include all the protective gear if you’re using a hard ball
  • A partner – they will be required to either bowl the ball or give throw downs
  • A ball of your choice – it’s best to have a few available so you don’t have to keep retrieving them!
  • A large, flat surface that you can bat on – a space that is the length of a cricket pitch would be ideal! An actual cricket pitch would be even better!
  • Something to mark out the different lengths of the pitch – I like to use some thick coloured tape for this, but you can use other things too! Just make sure they’re not bulky enough to disturb the bounce of the ball if it hits them!

Optional Items:

  • A measuring device – if you want to be super accurate with the zones you mark out, you could measure them with a tape measure etc. If you prefer to just guess, the lengths, then do that!
  • A set of stumps

How to perform the drill:

  1. First, mark out some areas of the pitch using your tape or whatever you’re using to mark the surface. You can mark as many areas as you want, but I usually use the tape to mark out a yorker zone, a full length zone, a good length zone and a back of a length zone like I showed in the diagram earlier. Once you’ve marked out the pitch, it may look something like below!
  1. Now get into your batting stance, and get your partner to either throw or bowl the ball at you. Your partner should be bowling/throwing overarm!
  1. As your partner delivers the ball towards you, you must decide whether to play on the front foot or the back foot based on how much the ball bounces. Additionally, after each delivery, you should try and point to the spot on the pitch where the ball bounced. Your partner will be able to tell you if you were correct or not. This lets you know if you are watching the ball closely enough.
  1. Bat like this for as long as you feel you need to. I’d recommend at least a half an hour session so that you can face plenty of balls and get comfortable with watching the ball and judging length.

Obviously, the set up of this drill depends on the surface you’re playing on and the ball you’re playing with. Ideally, you will be playing on an actual cricket surface with a proper cricket ball. Then you can mark out your lengths in the way I showed above. If you’re playing on a bouncier surface like concrete, or you’re using a ball like a tennis ball, this will make the surface harder to mark out due to the difference in bounce!

Also, if you don’t want to mark out several lengths on the pitch, you could just mark out one line instead. If you put a bit of tape on the good length area of the pitch, you can say that any ball that pitches fuller than the line you will play on the front foot. Any ball that pitches behind the line you should play on the back foot.

Line Drills

If you want to practice your judgement of the line of the ball, there are a few simple little practices you can do. Here is one of them!

What you’ll need:

  • Batting equipment – this should include all the protective gear if you’re using a hard ball
  • A partner – they will be required to either bowl the ball or give throw downs
  • A ball of your choice – it’s best to have a few available so you don’t have to keep retrieving them!
  • A large, flat surface that you can bat on – a space that is the length of a cricket pitch would be ideal! An actual cricket pitch would be even better!
  • A set of stumps

How to perform the drill:

  1. To start this drill, make sure your partner is armed with a few balls that they can bowl/throw towards you
  1. Once you both have all your equipment, get into your batting stance in front of the stumps like you would during a normal net session, and have your partner stand a full pitch length away from you.
  1. Now ask your partner to bowl/throw the ball towards you. Your task during this drill is to leave the ball as many times as possible. So, basically, if the ball isn’t going to hit the stumps or your body, you should try to leave it alone and not play a shot. If the ball is targeting your stumps or your body, feel free to play an attacking or defensive shot.
  1. Try facing 30 balls to start with, and see how many of them you can judge correctly. Your partner should keep track of how many times you played a shot at a delivery that you didn’t need to, and give you a final mark out of 30.

This drill helps you to learn how to make early judgements about what line the ball is going to be travelling on. More specifically, it helps you to judge where your off stump is! This is one of my favourite drills for teaching people how to judge the line of deliveries and if you try it I’m sure you’ll enjoy it too! Using this drill once a week can really help you to develop good processes when it comes to judging the ball early.

If You’re Not Batting, Use Your Net Sessions To ‘Shadow Bat’

I’m a firm believer that if you want to make it as a professional batsman you’ll have to devote an incredible amount of time to practicing your skills. But as we all know, there will be many times when it’s not possible for you to get in the nets and face some bowling! I also know from my own experience of junior cricket that there are a lot of batsmen who get about 15 minutes of batting practice and spend the rest of their time bowling – even though they’re not particularly interested in that side of the game! Over the years the thought began to occur to me – perhaps there’s something more useful that these batsmen could be doing with their time…

One thing that may be more useful is to get yourself a bit of mental preparation by doing some specific ‘shadow batting’ during your practice sessions. If you’re not sure what shadow batting is, it basically refers to the act of rehearsing your batting movements when you’re not facing a delivery from a bowler. So, for example, a batsman who practices the movement of playing a cover drive without actually hitting a ball is shadow batting.

At this point, you may be wondering how shadow batting helps you to judge the ball quicker! Well the important thing about the type of shadow batting that I’m recommending is that it should take place behind the nets in which bowlers are bowling! If you want to have a go at this type of shadow batting, follow these steps:

  1. First, pick up your bat. You don’t really need any other equipment for this drill
  1. Now get into your stance about 4-5 metres behind where the batsman who is currently batting is standing. When you position yourself, try to make sure you can see the bowler and their entire run up. Obviously, you should be behind the net, not inside it. There should be a net separating you and the batsman that is facing the delivery
  1. Once you are in position, all you have to do is watch the ball as the bowler delivers it. If you choose to, you can then simulate the type of shot you would play in response to the delivery that is bowled
  1. If you don’t want to rehearse a shot, you can simply stand behind the net and watch the ball from the bowlers hand all the way to the batsman. This simple act of watching the ball can help to prepare you for when you have to watch the ball during a real match.

Unfortunately, if there is no room behind your nets then you won’t be able to do this little drill, but it’s good to keep in mind if you do have some room available! I find that this type of batting practice is especially good for inexperienced players who are a little bit nervous about getting in the nets and facing quick bowlers! It allows them to get a little taste of what it is like to face fast bowling before they actually have to go in the nets and bat against it!


I hope you enjoyed this post! Remember, what you do with this information I’ve given you above is completely up to you. You don’t HAVE to make any of the changes I’ve mentioned. However, if you do start working on some of those things, I think it may really help you out in your quest for batting greatness!

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